Friday November 5 2010
The Milito-Eto'o conundrum

Diego Milito's potential inclusion in the Brescia match-day squad represents a new challenge for Rafa Benitez, one that could make or break the Coach's Inter career. Rob Paton writes

Diego Milito's brief cameo at Tottenham on Tuesday evening announced two things very publicly to the Nerazzurri fans and critics. The first is that the No 22 is looking sharp and, secondly, Samuel Eto'o looks set to retain a central striker position.

Milito came on for Goran Pandev with 20 minutes remaining and took a position along the final line of attack next to Eto'o and Philippe Coutinho. Crucially, though, Benitez left Eto'o in a central striking role.

Whether or not putting Eto'o above Milito remains the case should Milito start on Saturday remains to be seen, but the quandary facing the Coach could be the difference between a successful season for the blue half of San Siro and Benitez heading out the door before we reach May.

With Milito misfiring in the opening rounds of the season, Eto'o demanded the lone striker role, and however detrimental his outburst may have been to the team's collective spirit and any relationship with Milito, the No 9 has followed it up with a run of form that sees him just one goal short of matching last season's goal tally already.

Milito's injury came at an ideal time for Benitez, coinciding with Eto'o's surge in form and allowing for the Argentine to fully recuperate. The neat exchange of passes with Eto'o within seconds of coming on at White Hart Lane, followed later by a well-struck effort that clipped the goalframe, indicates the former Genoa man looks ready to challenge – if not partner – Eto'o and attempt to recapture the form that saw him net 30 goals last term.

The scenario is a dream for any Serie A Coach – two proven, world-class strikers vying for a starting berth, but for Benitez, it also represents a potential storm of criticism should he get it wrong.

The options are to leave Milito and Eto'o competing for the single role in attack and be accused of an over-cautious approach, to upset Eto'o and shift him back to a wide position – going against a promise the Cameroonian says Benitez made him and risk media finger pointing of weakening the side should Milito fail to find his scoring touch – or to alter the formation mid-season.

There is the possibility of changing to a 4-3-1-2, to maintain Wesley Sneijder's creative presence in the centre and encourage a partnership to develop between Eto'o and Milito. However, it will leave the side, particularly in Europe, vulnerable to wing-play, something highlighted by the lack of tracking back from Inter's widemen in recent games that has seen the full-backs struggle to prevent crosses into the box.

Benitez has also shown reluctance to switching to a diamond midfield, with a 4-4-2 option of Pandev and Philippe Coutinho on the wings and a Sneijder-Javier Zanetti central partnership looking a possibility against Brescia.

Whichever way Benitez chooses to get the best out of both Milito and Eto'o, he looks set to start having his say on Inter 2010-11, and if he gets this right, La Beneamata will have the most lethal strikeforce in Serie A again. Perhaps most significantly it will also represent something even Jose Mourinho wasn't able to do at the club.

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